When I got engaged I loved my ring so much.
When my marriage ended my ex didn't ask for the ring back and I didn't offer it.
I still wear it as a reminder of all the hard things I've done in the last decade.
"That's a beautiful ring," the cashier at the mall says as I slide a blouse across the counter.
I glance down at my right hand out of habit: five diamonds arranged in the shape of a flower set in white gold. It's the most expensive piece of jewelry I own — the kind that gets passed down to a granddaughter or great-granddaughter on a special day, adorning fingers and jewelry boxes long after my name has faded to memory.
The cashier hands me my receipt. I mentally steel myself for the question I know is coming: "Where did you get it?"
It was my engagement ring
A decade ago, I sat across a restaurant table from the man I loved. Platters of sushi stretched between us, delicate slices of salmon and mango curling artistically around the rice. I couldn't stop peeking at the new ring glittering on my finger. My future husband caught me looking and smiled. I'd never liked the idea of an over-the-top surprise proposal, which sounded more like an ambush than a romantic encounter. We'd simply talked and decided we were ready for the next step. I'd chosen the engagement ring; if I was going to wear it for the rest of my life, I wanted to decide what it looked like. Instead of a typical unwieldy solitaire that would forever get caught on sweaters, I'd fallen in love with a white gold five-diamond flower design. The ring symbolized our relationship: unique, not fussy, made to last a lifetime.
Or so I thought.
I got very ill
Two years into my marriage, I became seriously ill with severe brain inflammation. Unable to walk, think normally, and remember much of my past, I lay in bed all day trying to survive. At the emergency room one night, I caught a glimpse of my husband from where he sat beside my hospital bed, his head bowed, and shoulders slumped in grief.
Over the next seven months, I tried to show him I was still the woman he married, even when I could barely remember who I was myself.
In the months I was bedridden, I treasured the small gifts my family and friends brought me. Each item provided a clue to my previous life and to the person I was before my illness. The book from my mother, a candle my aunt sent me, and get-well cards from my students all served as physical reminders that my family and friends cared about me. When my fingers swelled from my medication, I moved my engagement ring to a chain around my neck. I would reach up to touch the ring often, reminding myself I was loved.
I eventually recovered. My mind settled back into its familiar patterns. I relearned to walk, speak normally, and function in the world again. It never occurred to me that while I'd return to being the person I'd always been, my husband would not.
We got divorced and I kept the ring
Rather than celebrating my recovery with me, my husband fell apart. He erupted into fits of anger, screaming at me as I sat on our couch, my legs still too weak to run away from him. When I discovered he was cheating on me, I insisted on marriage counseling, but he frequently lied to the counselor. I left him when I grew healthy enough to live on my own.
He didn't ask for my ring back, and I didn't offer. The first week I spent living away from him in my own place was one of the most peaceful weeks of my life. That's when I knew ending my marriage had been the right decision.
I've bought myself ruby necklaces, garnet earrings, and gold rings in the eight years since my divorce. But my favorite piece of jewelry and one of my most prized possessions is still my engagement ring.
Surviving both a disease and a bad marriage is gritty and messy. But my ring reminds me that survival can also be beautiful. If I hadn't survived both my illness and a dangerous marriage, I wouldn't be the strong person I am today. Like the gifts my family and friends sent me while I was bedridden, my engagement ring is a reminder of who I am as a person and what I've lived through.
I can fondly remember that day at the sushi restaurant without letting it be spoiled by the disaster that followed. Nine years after my recovery, I believe in clinging to joy whenever I can, treasuring those memories because none of us ever know when life might take them from us.
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